Is the Law of Attraction a Load of Horse Hooey?

July 19th, 2009 by Bob Bly

Self-help gurus preach positive thinking and the Law of Attraction, which says that when you think about good things, good things will come to you.

But a new research study reported in Time (7/27/09, p. 55) disputes the power of positive thinking, concluding that “trying to get people to think more positively can actually have the opposite effect [and] simply highlight how unhappy they are.”

In a psychological experiment, a group of subjects were supposed to repeat the affirmation “I am lovable” when a bell was run every 15 seconds.

Rather than make those with low self-esteem feel better, as affirmations as supposed to do, their moods turned significantly more negative than the control group, who weren’t prodded to think positively.

The study provides support for newer forms of psychotherapy that urge people to accept their negative thoughts and feelings rather than try to get rid of them.

I am waiting for a self-help book based on this approach, which if I wrote it would be titled “The Power of Negative Thinking.” 🙂

How about you?

Do you swear, as so many seem to do, by the power of positive thinking and the Law of Attraction?

Or do you agree with the study, which seems to indicate that merely thinking about good things won’t make them come true?


This entry was posted on Sunday, July 19th, 2009 at 9:34 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

39 responses about “Is the Law of Attraction a Load of Horse Hooey?”

  1. Joel Heffner said:

    Can I put in an order for “The Power of Negative Thinking” early? I’m not sure if I should add 🙂 or 🙁 at the end. Gurus who give general advice usually don’t have much advice to give. Specifics are what most folks want/need.

  2. Kelja said:

    I believe whenever a person sets their mindset positively or negatively, it sets them up for failure. Let me explain, if you repeat the phrase, ‘I am lovable’ enough it probably does have the effect of making you feel better about yourself. But when someone rejects you, that mindset is disproved. Same thing with saying or thinking: ‘I a sharp cookie’.

    This is why I try not to encourage my kid with the idea they are smart. The moment when that mindset is disproved it causes big problems. Either that person starts to believe the opposite, that they’re dumb, or they stop trying difficult things that will show their incompetence and ignorance.

    The mindset, I believe, you need to cultivate is a simple one, a mindset of growth. That way failure is always looked as a possible learning experience, an opportunity to try harder next time.

  3. Phil Wrzesinski said:

    Kelja, good for you for not telling your kids they are smart but instead encouraging a mindset of growth.

    A study was done with high achieving children. Those who were told they were “smart” over and over again did not achieve as well as those who were congratulated for their “hard work”. The kids who were praised for being smart would always take the easy road to make sure they never failed and were continually praised as being smart, while the kids who were praised for working hard continued to work hard and ended up challenging themselves much more than the first group.

    The study highlighted in this blog, however, is flawed in that the principle of the Law of Attraction is not continued repetition, but actual belief. Just saying over and over “I am lovable” does not change the mindset of the person who doesn’t at his or her core believe he or she is loveable. But if the person started to “act” like he or she was loveable, it would change other’s perceptions and they would see this person as loveable. The Law of Attraction requires belief and action, not just words. Even a good writer knows that words without action are empty.

  4. Catherine Franz said:

    There’s always a positive and negative side to everything. There are too many possibilities for either to be true or false. If you believe in positive thinking, you’re right. If you believe it doesn’t matter, you’re right. Whatever you believe, it’s right. Why do we need someone to tell us what’s right or wrong for us. I prefer to be a positive thinking and living my life with this attitude and believe. I do believe in quantum physics and also universal energy and it’s influence on us. And from this I build the foundation of my life on. It’s just a choice like whether we see the glass half full or half empty. It isn’t until much later in life do we really learn what is happening. Just like the aha moments you receive today that change your thinking about what you believed in some time in the past.

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  7. Debrah C. said:

    I saw the Law of Attraction in operation in my life (and others) before I knew what it was. When I read the book, it made a lot of sense. I have found, and firmly believe, that whatever we habitually dwell on becomes reality in our lives. It works for the negative as well as the positive. Faith can be negative or positive. The universe, or God, brings into our lives what we visualize and concentrate on…..not just an idle thought…but one that we catch and hold onto on purpose. May you have joyful thoughts.

  8. Heather B said:

    The point that’s being omitted here is the one that always seems to be–the power of positive thinking isn’t in merely repeating phrases, it’s in bringing your beliefs and ACTIONS into alignment with the thought. Of course just repeating “I am loveable” won’t work–but if one works to bring that alignment, they CAN change. Positive thought is only the first step–you have more work to do if you truly desire to change yourself or your life.

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  10. Hans said:

    I believe so, because there are some instances that Law of Attraction.

  11. Bob Wagner said:

    The law of attraction is a load of hooey, however the power of focus is not. The more you think about something, the more apt you are to do something to go after it. But!!!! Your thoughts must be followed up with action. If not you are still a dreamer. We do not get what we think about. We get what we act upon.

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  13. Your Buddy Rob said:

    Law Of Attraction isn’t about the power of positive thinking. It is more about the power of just thinking the next better feeling thought. If one is in a state of depression, then this means anger would be a positive move up the vibrational scale from hopelessness. Frustration would be a move up from anger, etc.

    By paying attention to our emotions, we can steer our attention to the next better-feeling thought, and eventually arrive at a state of hope and better and better feeling emotions.

    The worst that can happen if one does this is that all that you want doesn’t not manifest, but you feel happy. But the ‘stuff’ will manifest. Most people have it backwards: They think that they will be happy when this comes or that happens. However, it’s the other way around.


  14. Jim Logan said:

    The part of the Law of Attraction that seems to be overlooked in discussion is the part about taking action. The idea is to focus thoughts and then act.

    Thinking happy thoughts and getting something good in return is silly. Thinking happy thoughts and taking action more often than not results in something good.

  15. Lou Wasser said:

    To a limited extent, thinking good thoughts can help. When thinking good thoughts seems to fail us, sometimes psychotherapy or a thoughtfully written self-help program(again, to a limited extent) can help.

    But at some point, common sense had better kick in. Negative thoughts or anxieties acts like a burner on a stove. The burner is nature’s way of telling us that our bodies (or at least our hands) will be in for it if we get too close.

    So too with our anxieties and negative thoughts. These are our antennae which warn us that there’s difficulty out there in the wider world.

    Our ultimate mission (should we choose to accept it) is to engage that difficulty.

    Or, on the other hand, we can buy a self-help program to teach us to think sweet and benign thoughts and to help us to see the difficulty in a new, less threatening, perspective.

    I don’t know about you … but, I prefer the former way. At least in the good ole’ USA, the odds are rigged against the Zen Buddhist and in favor of the man or woman with lots of shoe leather.

  16. Ken said:

    I would agree with Jim Logan that taking action is the most important element of the Law of Attraction that most people overlook.

    Just thinking ‘positive thoughts’ won’t do anything. Using visualization to help create the life you want, then acting on the opportunities as they come along is what it’s all about.

    Not to mention…there’s really no arguing with someone who firmly believes in it. To them, it is a Law just like gravity and it is happening whether you believe in it or not.

  17. Bob Bly said:

    Several of the early positive thinking teachers (Earl Nightingale among them, I believe), said “We become what we think about.” Do you believe that is true?

  18. Ken said:

    I don’t know that I’ve formed a concrete belief on that topic yet. Although, the thoughts and movies we play over and over in our heads do seem to have a way of manifesting themselves in reality…at least in my own experience.

  19. Tim said:

    For me, it’s just a way of fooling yourself. There’s a big difference between convincing yourself and uplifting your confidence. As a person, we must accept whom we are. Then from there, we could start dreaming of what we want to be.

  20. Bob Bly said:

    Tim: I think that’s why the study found that affirmations can actually make people more depressed. They realize it isn’t true and feel like they are themselves.

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  22. Mele said:

    I agree with you, Lou…engage the difficulty!

    We build confidence by taking that seemingly insurmountable problem and tackling it with success. We then realize that we can handle the inevitable difficulties that coming with living life.

    But what if you are NOT successful in tackling that problem? Then you’ve learned something. This is where positive thinking comes in: FIND a lesson in it.

    Perhaps, a better way to handle the issue next time. Or, you can tell yourself: “Well, I didn’t find a solution, but I am still here, not suicidal, not in a straitjacket…” Sometimes the best way to get through difficult times is to, well, realize that you CAN get through difficult times.

    Once I was so afraid of a situation. My fears were justified…it happened. Or…that you didn’t go “ga ga” because you couldn’t find the solution.

  23. Jules said:

    Perhaps the test subjects got depressed once they realized that the testers assumed feeling lovable would be a stretch in reality for the testees.

    I think affirmations need to be individually prescribed to have any merit.

  24. Patricia Winston said:

    Hi Bob,
    It is confusing isn’t it? Affirmations can work if they reflect the core values of the person making the statment.

    There is so much science being written about now that can really help people organize their values in such a way they can successfully change and move from where they are to where they want to go.

    Dr Bruce Lipton is a prolific writer and hard core cellular biology scientist that has the answer to this among others out there with just as much evidence. One can easily find Bruce by doing a search on his name.

    If you wanted to work with negative affirmations, you could do something like a positive denial until your core values alter enough for you to begin believing internally in the new value you want to pursue. Such a statement might look like:

    “Even though I’ve never earned $100,000 dollars, I believe I could with the right support, company, product, and I’m definitely interested in committing to that goal.”


    “Even though I’ve been 20 pounds overweight for 5 years, and up till now, I haven’t been motivated to work out or eat better, I now feel like committing to eat better food, walk 2 miles each day and get back to my normal weight of_________.”

    By a consistent effort to find out what your own self is thinking and feeling and talking to yourself in a believable way – doing it your way, not the guru’s way – it can be done.

    Great subject on of my favorites. I am the changing woman:)

  25. Bob Bly said:

    Essay: I agree about positive thinking giving false hope. If I ever write my book The Power of Negative Thinking, the first line of chapter one will read: “If you are a pessimist, you will never be disappointed.” Martin Seligman found that pessimists are realists who see the world more as it is, not as they want it to be.

  26. Lisa Brown said:

    It is indeed a load of new age horse hooey. The “Universe” is not personal and has no ability to do anything other than exist. We accomplish things by being determined, focused, and diligent. Now, there IS something to say for controlling our thoughts, but our thoughts don’t “become our reality.”

  27. Archana Sarat said:

    I believe in positive thinking and it is only that, that has helped me to clear Chartered Accountancy, ditch it, embark on a new career – copywriting – and succeed in it too. Positive affirmations worked wonders for me and still continue to do so!

  28. Clay Conner said:

    I’d like to draw a distinction between “positive thinking” and a “positive attitude”. To me the former is a moniker attached to an industry that attempts to monetize the latter. Based on my own personal experience, a “positive attitude” is a desirable attribute and generally speaking helps me navigate through the day and one of the only things I have some control over.

    However, the mere mention of “positive thinking” makes me think about a list of countless books, seminars, network marketing companies, self help gurus, websites etc. that attempt to translate the concept of a “positive attitude” into a magical potion for success.

    My observation is that success comes from hard work, focus, determination, leveraging off of your strengths, doing it all for an extended period of time, the grace of God and yes a positive attitude.

    The “positive thinking” industry has created a lot of spin offs that have “productized” the concept into different forms that attempt to convince people they can buy into a specific version and unlock success. This attracts a lot of lazy people into believing they can achieve their dreams with whatever brand of “positive thinking” they are being sold. The result is that they don’t succeed but they get excited about the concept for a while.

    Let’s just put a “positive attitude” where it belongs – one of the many attributes and practices that contribute to success. It’s like saying the spark plug is the key to making an engine run. Sure its important, but there are many other interdependent parts that make the engine work.

  29. The Baum Group/Dr. Rae and Associates said:

    In every area of your life the Universal Law
    of Attraction responds to your actions, your emotions and your thoughts.

    You gain mastery in every area of your life when your actions, your emotions and your thoughts are authentic and congruent; and
    when you are mindful of the life you want
    with appreciation and gratitude every moment
    of every day.

  30. Bob Bly said:

    Baum: Ah, Dr. Rae … can you prove it?
    Lisa: I think you’re (as they say) “spot on.”

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  32. Jeff said:

    I draw a distinction between the old power of positive thinking as written about since the early 20th c, and the Secret or the 21st c.

    When you scratch below the surface, the advocates and practitioners of The Secret are teaching a new age spiritualism, and it is based on a type of faith.

    Substitute Universe for God. And for them, this is a great one because compared to onerous Old Time Religion, The Secret is all about you, gratifying your desires, getting what you want. Hey, what’s not to like, right?

    As it is, they capitalized on it. If you can capitalize on the momentum with a contrarian view, go for it.

    As it is, the Secret’s True Believers will not be dissuaded by studies, because underlying it is a form of faith-based belief that defies science.

    It merely shrouds itself in pseudo science referencing highfalutin terms to sell itself to people who are willing to accept the faith.

    One man’s opinion.

  33. Bob Bly said:

    Whether it’s belief in God or the Law of Attraction, there is nothing wrong with faith except this: you cannot PROVE that it (God, the Law of Attraction) exists. You can believe it, but not prove it. This is a problem for pragmatic skeptics like me who demand scientific proof.

  34. Avatar said:

    Well, it’s not about repeating affirmation. It’s about changing the limited belief located in the subconscious mind and that requires constant effort. The result cannot be seen instant but it will show up if the person keep doing it. Law of Attraction requires proper mindset to see it happen in the way the person wanted.

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  37. T said:

    Bob: But where is your scientific proof for the truth of “scientific proof” or “pragmatism”? In other words, the validity of the scientific method itself is unprovable by science, as is any appeal to pragmatism unprovable by pragmatic value. You too are taking a leap of faith with your belief in these things (not that there is anything wrong w/that or anything wrong with belief and faith as this is shared by all human beings!)

  38. Laurie said:

    I so enjoyed reading your post, don’t stop now! It’s nice to make connections like this.

  39. bob said:

    we become what we think about most of the time i think is bullshit, obviously einstein thought about physics and became a great scientist that’s because he where good for that and arnold thought about being a bodybuilder and got the ADN for it.

    youve got to have some genetics for starting and practicing its not about thinking wich makes magic.

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